Ignoring Beer's Sexism Problem Won't Make It Go Away
Award-winning homebrewer Mandy Naglich shares her take on what the craft beer world is doing right when it comes to tackling sexist attitudes—and where it still needs work.
"Oh, yes—a woman!," must have gone through some staffers' heads last year when I was the only woman to win a Gold Medal at the National Homebrew Competition. Now, the event photos would look more balanced, both men and women champions, they surely thought. What a relief!
The craft beer industry loves to showcase its women contributors. We see photos everywhere of Meg Gill, the co-founder and president of Golden Road Brewing; and Kim Jordan, co-founder of New Belgium Brewing Company. The program director of the Brewers Association is Julia Hertz; a woman! How can this industry have a sexism problem with all of these celebrated, high-ranking women on display?
True: There isn't a shortage of women working in the craft beer industry. While there is a considerable gap in women with high-level roles in craft beer, it is not as egregious as the gaps we see in the tech and finance industries. In 2014, 17 percent of craft breweries had a female CEO and 21 percent had a female in an executive role. During the same year in Silicon Valley, women held just 11 percent of executive positions and a dismal 9 percent of executive officer positions.
The women missing from craft beer are primarily on the consumption side. Women make up only 25 percent of regular (weekly) craft beer drinkers.
That's because there is a sexism problem in craft beer—one that won't go away from being ignored or dismissed. A sexism problem that needs to be addressed.
John Holl, editor of All About Beer magazine and author of The American Craft Beer Cookbook, had his heart in a good place last month when he wrote that the magazine would take a stand against beers with names that objectify women or that rely on sexist advertising. That "stand" consists of leaving beers with sexist names out of reviews and off magazine pages and the website, unless newsworthy. (I guess they can't give up all those hate clicks.)
When conversations of beer and sexism are raised in the media, over dinner, or at beer industry events, they're often met with the same arguments: "Chill out—it's just beer," or "Consumers will vote with their dollars. It's not our job to say anything about this." Just check out the comment section of the All About Beer statement or some of the pieces written in response.
My point of view on the first argument is essentially a dramatic groan because this "just beer" is a product I've dedicated most of the last six years of my life to studying and enjoying. And on that second argument, I'm here to tell you: Guess what? People are voting with their dollars. And they aren't voting for craft beer.
When women see options like "Tramp Stamp," "Silent Vixen," and "Panty Peeler," on drink menus, they don't just ignore the names and order a brew with a more tasteful moniker. They tend to skip the beer section in its entirety, likely with an eye roll.
READ MORE: Brewing Beer Has Always Been a Woman's Game
According to the Wall Street Journal, total revenue for alcohol producers rose 30 percent over the past ten years, to $68 billion. During that time, liquor revenue increased by 40 percent and wine revenue by 35 percent. Beer actually showed the slowest growth, at just 23 percent increase in revenue to $32.3 billion.
In 2015, it took a Chicago retailer outright refusing to sell Sweetwater Brewing's Happy Ending Imperial Stout for Sweetwater to rethink the label. In its original form, the label had a winking geisha, a box of tissues, and a description touting a "huge dry-hopped stiffy." This store manager, Adam Vavrick of Binny's Beverage Depot, didn't leave the choice up to the consumer; he saw something that didn't belong in the conversation about beer and refused to propagate the message.
This is the kind of "stand" we need to see more often. Not ignoring or dismissing a message that is demeaning to women, but taking action to stop that message, one which is totally unnecessary to help that beer reach consumers.
As part of the beer scene, I've always felt welcomed. Sure, I've answered the test questions, often barked at me as soon as I speak up at a beer event. However, this situation comes up in the context of many other industries, too. In fact, I've often felt celebrated as a women with a voice and some brewing chops.
But even I have had uncomfortable experiences as a beer consumer.
A few years ago, I stopped at the liquor store on the way to a friend's family party. I grabbed a raspberry-flavored dessert beer from one of my favorite national breweries—a perfect hostess gift. I smiled to myself, thinking about how I love helping people discover new beers.
But then, while in line to check out, my friend said, "Um, you can not give that to my mom!"
I glanced down to find an illustration of a woman suggestively showing her back while squeezing a raspberry onto her skin.
"I didn't even notice," I said, embarrassed. "I guess I've never looked at the label. It's a really good beer, but yeah... I'll just grab a Champagne."
The Champagne went over well, but I wish someone would have stopped that label from being affixed to a bottle of great beer so that I could have brought it along without making anyone uncomfortable.
That's what it will take: speaking up and shutting it down. Sexism in beer won't disappear by being ignored.
Mandy Naglich is an avid homebrewer and National Homebrew Competition gold medal winner. Since becoming a Certified Beer Server, she's been featured on The Sporkful, The New York Times ' "Tell Me Something I Don't Know", and October .